Friday, April 20, 2007

Turn around

Procrastination! Drug of the nation... It's been far too long since I blogged, and my list of excuses is long but totally uninteresting.

Unlike events this week - which have been hugely interesting.

ON WEDNESDAY, I travelled to Bac Ninh to meet the province level Red Cross and chat about the progress of our sponsorship program. All very good and well. Then in the afternoon I went to see some children who had previously run away to Hanoi, and we helped them return to their families.

One of the children was a boy named Duong, about 12 years old, who we met in Hanoi just last month. His father beats him badly - and often - so even though Duong went home, we are worried about what will come of him.

The father clearly had mixed feelings about me and my colleague turning up to tell him how to raise his son. So we were relaxed, and won him over with some smiles before giving some friendly advice about how to deal with 'young people these days'. I won't fool myself into believing we've solved all of that family's problems, but I hope that we had a bit of an impact.

THIS MORNING saw another moving case to deal with. In January last year, I was blogging about the many children in our program who were mugged and robbed in the lead-up to Lunar New Year.

Each time one of our kids was mugged - often in daylight, once with a knife - my staff and I would try to track down the robber and get the money back. We were usually successful.

One of the muggers came to see me today to ask for help. He has a heroin addiction, and is desperate to get off. A few years ago he spent 8 months in rehab, but before long he was back with a needle up his arm.

He happens to know Binh, who we helped through rehabiliatation last year, and came asking if we could do the same for him.

After a very long meeting - it's on. He flies to Saigon on Saturday, he's said goodbye to his family already, and we have a rough plan for what to do when he gets out in a year or so.

It's going to be an expensive process; the cost will be somewhere around $2000, which is about 3 times the national GDP. But then, it's only a small amount to give somebody back their whole life.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Medical Mission

This is a message especially for readers based in Vietnam!

Vietnam Family Medical Practice (with branches in Saigon, Danang and Hanoi) are organising a medical mission to rural Quang Binh Province. This is a charitable act that they undertake on their own goodwill, but it's also a great opportunity for others to make a contribution.

They are calling for donations of medication, rice, food, personal hygiene products, eg shampoo, soap, toothbrushes/paste, children clothing and toys - or the money to buy them. They're also hoping to be able to provide some pigs to villages, to address protein shortages. (Any pigs out there who want to volunteer?)

If you can help - contact the Practice on:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Must be something in the stars

There's a U2 song I like called "Some days are better than others."

Around Blue Dragon, a more suitable title would be "Some days are stranger than others."

Yesterday was one of those days. For absolutely no reason I can see, it was simply destined to be more bizarre than usual.

From the start of the day to its very late end, we dealt with 7 runaway boys. Some have been living in Hanoi for months or even years, but come out of the shadows from time to time, covered in filth and oozing from open wounds. They always refuse medical help, but are happy to have a hot shower and sit about chatting and munching chocolate before disappearing again down the alleyways.

There were some 'new' runaways as well. One boy, named Duong, was from nearby Bac Ninh province. He'd had an argument with his dad and wanted to punish him by running away for the day. But Duong caught the wrong bus, and didn't arrive at his uncle's house in the next village; he found himself at Long Bien market in Hanoi, with no money to pay the return fare home.

Of course, when he met us, he didn't tell us all this straight away. When we first started helping runaways, it would take up to 2 weeks for them to open up to us like that. These days it's much quicker - Duong broke down and told his life story in less than 6 hours. But that was an emotion-packed 6 hours, and as I said, he wasn't the only runaway with us.

While the staff and I were talking to these boys, another of our kids rushed in to warn us that a young man had been acting suspiciously outside; he'd been pacing the street for at least 15 minutes, and had also been sitting watching our center from a distance. I hopped on to a motorbike straight away and scoured the streets, but our mystery man was gone - it's very easy to vanish in the thousands of narrow alleys of our suburb.

A few hours later, as I was walking home after dinner, I ran into a young guy we know who has a bit of a weird history with Blue Dragon. He mugged one of our kids once, in broad daylight, and when I found out where he lived I made his family pay back the money he had stolen. (We even got a note of apology!) This guy is a drug addict, about 20 years old, and last night he was floating in the clouds when I met him. Putting 2 and 2 together, I worked out that he was probably the man who had been watching our house earlier - and yep, the kids confirmed that it was him for sure.

But there's a twist to the tale: it seems that the young guy might be trying to ask us to help him go to rehab. That's definitely not what he was asking for when I spoke to him, but some of our other kids have told us that he's been sounding them out about the possibility. Nothing is ever straightforward. Looks like I'll have to pay another visit to the family, but this time will be a much friendlier occasion than the last.

So we all finished the day pretty exhausted. We still have kids down with the chicken pox (C'mon guys, who's next?) and in the midst of it all our two lawyers, Van and Hong, are preparing their wedding - for this weekend!

It's a satisfying feeling to see the Blue Dragon team dealing so well with such complexities. But I am hoping that the next few days are just a little more sane.